Baltimore’s disgraced former mayor pleaded guilty to a state perjury charge Friday for failing to disclose a business interest relating to her “Healthy Holly” children’s books on her financial disclosure forms when she was a state senator.
Catherine Pugh, a 70-year-old Democrat, already has been sentenced to three years in federal prison for netting hundreds of thousands of dollars in the self-dealing scandal over the books that touted exercise and nutrition. She is scheduled to report to federal prison next week in Alabama. Last year, she pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy and tax evasion charges.
She answered “yes” quietly through a mask when asked by her attorneys whether she understood the plea agreement on the perjury charge. She was sentenced to six months in jail to be served concurrently with her federal sentence.
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Judge Mark Crooks said he was saddened for the city of Baltimore, which has struggled with high violent crime, when he heard of the charges against her.
“It forced you to leave the helm of the ship in the middle of the tempest,” Crooks said.
Charlton Howard, the state prosecutor who brought the charge, said after the sentencing that ensuring elected officials are transparent about their business relationships is essential to maintaining integrity in government. He noted that she reported other business interests on her financial disclosure forms, but not “Healthy Holly.”
“In order for us in the state and for the state prosecutor's office to have the best opportunity to battle corruption, the first important step is transparency. That's the reason behind the financial disclosure forms, so that the public doesn't have to guess at what are the financial ties that our public officials have,” Howard said.
Pugh served in the Maryland Senate from 2007 to 2016, when she was elected Baltimore’s mayor. She resigned as mayor under pressure last year as authorities investigated bulk sales of her paperbacks, which netted her hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Pugh earned at least $345,000 in income in 2016 through sales of her books but failed to mention her ownership in financial disclosure forms, which are filed with the Maryland State Ethics Commission and signed under the penalties of perjury, according to the state prosecutor’s office.
In the federal case, Pugh admitted to defrauding purchasers of her books to pay for straw donations to her political campaign for mayor and to fund the purchase and renovation of a house in Baltimore.
She also admitted to selling her books to the University of Maryland Medical System, where she had served as a board member.
The medical system paid Pugh a total of $500,000 for 100,000 copies that were meant to be distributed to schoolchildren, but about 60,000 of those books were sent to a city warehouse and a Pugh office where thousands were removed to give to other customers. Prosecutors say Pugh never delivered the other 40,000 books the health system purchased for city schools.
While serving in the state Senate, Pugh sat on a committee that funded the medical system. She also sat on the hospital network’s board from 2001 until the scandal erupted in March. Pugh returned the last $100,000 payment.